My high school years were speckled with trust walks. In my Unitarian Universalist youth group at the First UU Congregation of Ann Arbor, each year, the incoming freshmen were given blindfolds and a partner. They were led out into the dark, with only hands on their shoulders to guide them. When it was my turn to be blindfolded, I found, while stumbling over gravel in the parking lot and trudging up the hills behind my church, that despite all the efforts to fool me, the whole time I knew exactly where I was. This was ground I knew. Before even pressing down my foot I knew exactly how much the earth would give beneath me. I knew I was safe. I trusted the people around me, but it was easy. I knew I could have gotten along without them.
After high school I moved away for college and was looking for the belonging that I had found at home. I joined a poetry group, and our first meeting included an initiation ceremony that reminded me of my youth group trust walks. The evening started with a scavenger hunt around town and culminated in a trust walk. Blindfolded by the more senior members, I could not orient myself in the dark. For the first time in my life, I was truly lost. In this new town, I barely knew where I was with my eyes open. When I allowed a new acquaintance to guide me, I truly gave them control.
Growing up, I was fortunate to be able to find ground I loved and people I connected to at church. When I moved, the trauma of leaving such a beautiful home led me to be incredibly insecure my first few weeks away. Once, when I introduced myself, the person I was meeting told me, “You say ‘Ann Arbor’ like it’s the center of the universe.” To me, it was. It was how I related myself to the world. It was where my friends lived. I believed I could not love the people in my new home in the same way. They hadn’t watched me stumble through adolescence; they would never really know me. I felt that I was living away from where my life truly was.
I only started to adjust when the fall colors began to paint the trees around me. I found a sense of familiarity in the season. Time had not stopped even though little else in life felt continuous.
When I took a second to fall in love with fall, I started taking time to fall in love with the people around me. I began to discover the ways in which my new friends were similar to my other friends, and to appreciate the ways in which they were different. I learned to be comfortable with not always recognizing the similarities.
People keep telling me that in order to make the most of this time, I must live like I am dying. I find this idea constricting because so much of the idea of dying for me involves being my final, complete self—the person I want to grow into. This self, who lives her values perfectly and only creates beauty, is quite far away from who I am now. Instead of trying to achieve that impossible state, I am letting go for now. By allowing myself to trust the future and the change that comes with it, I get to stop and question. I do not need to rush.
Today I’m with new people, learning new norms, and new definitions of everything I thought I understood. I’m learning to take steps forward, without knowing whether the ground will hold me. I do not look down to search for familiarity, but instead look forward to the seasons ahead, to the inevitable change and growth.